Go on, be a hero

 

I met a woman yesterday. Not in the usual hi-my-name-is kind of way. No Siree! There were no introductions. No attempts at pleasantries. Funny thing, the encounter blended seamlessly with the grey of my thoughts against the backdrop of the ICU waiting bay.

Worried faces and slumped shoulders were all I could see. I didn’t need to look at their faces to know what they were feeling. I was feeling it too. So when this woman approached – strike that; I didn’t actually see her approach. I was far too engrossed in Doctor Google’s ‘tried and tested’ answers. And then suddenly she was just standing there.

She looked like she carried the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her posture slightly bent, her left hand clutching her long dress. She asked how we were, but I think she was just being polite.

“There’s a child in here.” She gestured. “She needs blood. Would you mind donating?”

I have to say I was taken aback. It’s not everyday someone asks for your blood. I mean, it happens every day. We see the blood appeals on social media. Faceless appeals. Just names and blood groups.

Many times, the blood group isn’t ours. Many times the blood group is ours, but we’re out of town or we aren’t feeling well or we just don’t like needles and hospitals. Many times we read the message and promptly forget. Many times we hope that the situation isn’t that grave, or that someone else will respond.

I guess it’s easy enough to do that when all you have to do is put down your phone. God knows I’ve done it many, many times. But this time was different. This time, she was right there. Giving more details than would normally appear on plain text; The worry lines on her face. The strain in her voice.

“What blood group do you need?”

“Any.”

Apparently the blood group didn’t matter. The baby needed plasma. (I tried to research this, but I got lost in all the FFP, PRP and ABO jargon. So don’t take my word for it, ask a Doctor!)

“How old is the baby?”

“Seven days…Please save this life…” Her voice cracks.

On our way to the lab, I notice she’s walking rather slowly, her gait labored. Up and down the stairs we went.

“Are you the mother?”

“Yes. They just told me this evening that she needs blood.”

Oh dear God.

Are you alone?”

“Yes. I have no one in Nairobi.”

I looked at her. I saw a mother in full regalia.

“She was perfectly healthy at birth. We were discharged from hospital and then we got home and she just collapsed. We were referred here by ambulance.”

All the way from Isiolo!

Half a liter of blood later, I learned that baby Faturi would need 4 more donors. My blood was only good for fifteen platelets. Her mother, in her postnatal state, still had more rounds to do; more strangers to approach; more pleas to make on her baby’s behalf.

I’m no stranger to heartbreak, but this was something else.

Except, it wasn’t.

This was no different from all the other people pleading every day for blood on social media. I know because today, I had to make an appeal of my very own. Same ICU; different patient; very specific blood group. O negative.

Belatedly, I realize I didn’t even take Mama Faturi’s number. I don’t even know if she got all the donors she needed.

But here’s what I do know: The situation is always THAT grave. Nobody launches a blood appeal to kill time. There’s always someone who needs blood. Sometimes it’s a faceless stranger. Sometimes it’s someone you love. Sometimes, it’s you.

Baby Faturi was born seven days ago. Hannington was perfectly healthy until a drunk driver run him over nine days ago.

Save a life, will you?

***

The above patients are in ICU at Mater Hospital Nairobi.

It really is rewarding to do good. If not at Mater, anywhere. Someone always, always, needs blood.

Look out!

I seldom take elevators. When I do, it’s with a sense of foreboding. Knowing that any minute, the metal ropes could snap and fling the car into the ever growing abyss beneath. I’m being morbid, I know. But everyone’s always talking about the bigger picture. Always alluding to this sweeping panoramic understanding of what really matters. But when life makes an abrupt turn in midair, suddenly we realize just how inept and minute we are; just how twisted our priorities are.

Last Friday I thought the metallic rope was snapping because I got an apology I didn’t even know was due to me. It felt…. weird. I had been wronged, but the apology was extremely vague on details. Apparently, the perpetrator didn’t think I deserved answers to questions like what, when, why or how? Nevertheless, she required forgiveness. Now that’s what I call nerve!  So I granted forgiveness. I didn’t really have much wiggle room. And then of course I burdened my little head pondering how much damage had been caused by the unspecified wrong. What exactly had I pardoned? What a terrible predicament. Or so, I thought.

On Saturday, I thought the rope was really, really snapping. All morning, I went about my errands with an all too familiar sense of apprehension. I had very little time to do so much. I was meeting my cousin at noon for an important task.

He was late for the meeting. He didn’t answer my calls. Very unusual, but I didn’t think much of it; he’s a busy guy. At 1pm, I learned the real reason for his ‘rudeness’.  He was lying unconscious at ‘Accidents and Emergencies’! Around the time I was snoozing my alarm that morning, he was being rushed to hospital, having been run over by a drunk driver! I was frantic. Calling even more frantic people. Praying. Rushing to hospital. The elevator was screeching on its hinges. My fear reverberated in the eerie silence of my own helplessness.

My cousin was banged up and disoriented. But his spirits were way up. Everybody blamed it on the morphine. I suppose they were right. But I think it might have had a lot to do with the fact that he’d been nicked by the grim reaper’s scythe, and lived to tell the tale! Best high there is! We could all breathe again. Or so, I thought.

On Sunday, the rope snapped. For real. It stopped fooling around. It just let go and sent me plummeting to the very abyss of grief. That morning, around the time I was easing into the laziness of Sunday morning, Mama Tendai was breathing her last. The news hit like a ton of…I don’t know…a mangled wreck of metal.

Outside my four walls, the world carried on spinning. The street bustled. Horns blared. People hurried. Mice scurried. Hawks soared.  It appeared I was plummeting all by my lonesome. The barrage of emotions unforgiving. Shock. Denial. Confusion. Fury. Guilt.

It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t. Only, it was.

The shock wanes in the face of time. Denial falters in the face of all the evidence. Confusion settles with the dust. Fury burns out with hopelessness. But the guilt, the guilt clings like molten rubber to skin. It burns too. The things I should have done, but didn’t. The words I should have spoken. The moments I should have seized. The wrongs I should have righted. The rights I should have applauded. The guilt burns. It shadows me into the darkness. Normal human functions are splattered with guilt.

“How could I eat at a time like this?”

“How could I laugh?”

“How could my mind still wander to things that seem so trivial?”

“How could I carry on living? Breathing? Sleeping? Dreaming?”

The guilt beats down until every inch of conscience is drenched in it. It awakens a hankering to be better. To do better.

I’m reminded just how short my journey is; just how fleeting my chances to hit the bulls eye. So now, I ride the elevator with a little less apprehension. I’m compelled to look through the glass, at the people getting smaller and smaller as the elevator gains altitude. I’m forced to acknowledge that that’s me too. Minute. Insignificant. An ant in a world teeming with massive shoes. Any minute, I could get quashed and the ant hill would carry on unperturbed. But I’ve been spared thus far. Somehow, my rope still holds.

Somehow, my fire is reignited. Must be all the oxygen fanning through my lungs.  I must honor the memory of my fallen comrade. I must draw from her legend. I must feel the love for those that still live. I must live so I too can inspire love. I must plan less about planning. I must dream less about dreaming. I must talk less about starting. I must simply do.

Because, who knows just how much metal still remains in my rope?

Time

My phone rang. The time was 4.01pm. The caller ID said Izzo.

“Hello.”

“Hi Martha.” His voice sounded off. It lacked the usual goofy quality.

“Have you heard the news?”

“What news?”

“Lilian has passed away.”

“Who?”

“Lilian.”

Izzo wanted my brother’s number. But I thought my brother should hear the news of his closest friend’s death from me. So I called him. He picked up on the first ring.

“Hello.”

“Hi. Have you heard the news?” I was still hoping Izzo had gotten it wrong.

“About Lilian?” That question, sinks all hope.

“Yes.”

“Yeah…She’s gone.”

Just like that.

I check her WhatsApp profile. Last seen today at 10.06am. I keep checking. Willing it to change to ‘online’. But it sticks to its timeline.

Last seen.

By who? The person she was chatting with? That person didn’t actually see her. The person who sat next to her in the doomed Matatu? Maybe. The first people at the scene? Did they see her? I don’t know.

I last spoke to Lilian last Monday. We didn’t actually speak. We chatted. Barely.

“Hi Lili.”

“Hi. How are you?”

“Am good. You?”

“Am sawa.”

“Remember, I wanted to write your story?”

“Yes honey. I do.”

“Well, I was serious.”

“No problem.”

That was Lilian. So uncomplicated.  Or maybe she didn’t think I was serious. But I was. I just didn’t think I’d be doing it so soon. Time pulled a fast one.

Lilian, this is not what I had in mind. I thought I’d write the story of a woman so vibrant and full of life. I thought I’d write of your struggles. Your triumph over the tribulations that life tossed your way. I thought I’d write of your inexplicable strength. Your hearty laugh. Your kindest of hearts.

I wanted to delve deeper. To chat over several of those tasty meals you were so famous for. But I wasn’t in a hurry. There was time. Time to polish my skills so I could do you justice. Time to wait for less hectic schedules because this wasn’t a story to be rushed. Time to peel layer after layer. Time to tell a story that honored you. Time to tell a story that cast a tow rope to many who felt like giving up.

Lilian, this story was meant to have many funny anecdotes; like the one about your dad and his dentures. Or the one about my dad, all those many years ago when we were all little tots. It was supposed to be filled with many happy memories; like the time we stayed up till 1am telling silly stories. It was supposed to inspire strength; like the time your baby’s father kicked you out with an infant and a fresh caesarean wound. How you summoned the strength to keep going. How you got back on your feet. How you journeyed every day. Faced every challenge. And how you created opportunity after opportunity to extend kindness.

Lilian, this was supposed to be a living story. A story we’d add to as we grew older. It was supposed to be a story we’d reminisce about when we became grannies. Way in the future.

Instead, I have only this. This sad ending to your life. This void wish that you were still here. This helpless yearning to turn back time. To last month; to last Monday; to the moment before you boarded that matatu; to five minutes before your ‘last seen’. Anything. I’d take anything. If only for a chance to alter this reality.

 

But time laughs

Because time negotiates with no one

We take only what it gives

Only what it deems fit to give

And when time decides to call it;

Our best skills,

Our fervent pleas,

Our loudest cries,

None could turn the clock back;

None could bring you back;

None could wrench you from the clutch of time –

None could give to us a choice

Except maybe to grasp the hand of time,

This cruel cruel time

And be grateful to it

For the time it gave you.

 

Fare thee well my sister.

Tendai couldn’t have asked for a better Mother.

Boy is lucky

Boy meets girl. Boy winks. Girl smiles. Boy walks girl home. Boy returns later and hoots like an owl. Girl sneaks out of the hut she shares with her siblings. Together, they slink into the quiet embrace of the banana plantation. Boy gets lucky. Boy is lucky, girl is not me.

I’m sorry, banana what?

Let me try to wrap my head around this. Have you ever seen a strong banana tree? Me neither! They all look like they’re ready to keel over! So I guess boy and girl have fog in their thoughts.

“We’ll be careful, I promise.”

Right.

They’re careful at first. Then flint catches stone. Someone leans on a leaning trunk. Next thing they know, all three of them go crashing down. Girl lets out a startled shriek. How she didn’t see that coming, is beyond me. The landing is uncomfortable. But that’s not even a concern;

“Shhhhh!”

“Did anyone hear us?” She asks, in that helpless tone that only a woman can pull off.

“What do you mean ‘us’?” He asks, in that incredulous tone that only a man can pull off.

“Are you implying this is my fault?”

“I’m not the one who opened my big mouth!”

“Oh, so now it’s a big mouth?”

He sighs.

“No, if you have something to say, say it!”

“I’ve already said everything I needed to say.”

“That my mouth is big?”

“Be quiet!”

“Oh! So now my voice is a problem too?”

“Someone’s coming!”

“Shit. What do we do?” She is such a stickler for ‘us’ and ‘we’ labels.

“I have to go.” He is sticking to the only label that works for him.

“Wait! Tonight was -”

“Tomorrow, same time, same place.” He interrupts. He does not wait for an answer.

“- beautiful.” She whispers to the darkness.

That Bukumune is something else. On her mat, she goes to sleep. Thoughts of Bukumune abound.

Boy is lucky.

Enter a different scene.

Boy is all grown up. He goes by Steve now. He’s surrounded by a different plantation. The concrete kind. He dons a pair of swimming trunks and sandals. He heads for the pool.  At the poolside, he finds girl in a green swimsuit. Her legs are dipped in the water.

“Why aren’t you swimming?” Steve asks.

“I don’t know how to swim.”

You wouldn’t know it, to look at him, but Steve can hear Angels singing Hallelujah.

“I can teach you.”  He offers.

“Reeeeaaaally?”

Steve nods and gets into the water.

“Lesson 1; how to float.”

I don’t know how, but Steve convinces her that the quickest way to master the floating technique is by lying on his back! I swear this guy can sell miraa to a miraa farmer!

So she gets on Steve’s back. The water holds for all of three seconds. Then Steve starts to sink. He panics. The fear in his eyes is visible from miles away. She becomes a hot splash.

The shallow water is his saving grace. He soon puts a thumb on the situation and ‘saves’ her from drowning. She remains clueless that Steve is clueless about swimming.

Like I said, boy is lucky!

 

 

When we fight

I wasn’t an athletic child. I was rather puny and awkward and pretty much hopeless at games. Well, not all games. I rocked at board games and word games and card games and oh my God, I was a geek! Good thing we are talking past tense, right? No? Whatever man! Say what you will, but the table was my stage and I sure could work it. The outdoors on the other hand, not my stage. All my gaming prowess became useless the instant I stepped outside. Out there, I was just a bag of left legs and arms.

In dodge ball, my skin was like a magnet for the ball; I swear that ball cut ninety degree corners to find me! In rounders, I was either tripping myself or tripping others or you know – getting hit by the ball. In skip rope, there was a lot of rope and a whole lot of tangling. In hopscotch…OK, you get it. I sucked! I was the kid no one wanted on their team. I knew it, and I didn’t much care. I knew that when I was up on my stage, all those athletic cheerleader types would be rooting for team me.

Besides, my awkwardness had other advantages – no one ever challenged me to those after school duels. You know, the ones where Shaka Zulu wannabes would draw lines in the dust and dare opponents to step over them  (if they wanted to eat said dust).

If ever there was a show of bravado, this was it! I mean, if you’re going to do something, just do it! Why give so much power to a line in the dust?

Anyway, what do I know? In this arena, I wasn’t deemed a worthy opponent. Good for me. I was enjoying the benefits of non-violence, long before I ever heard of the Dalai Lama.

But I do remember one duel. Shaka and the other chap, let’s call him Sindile, both boys in my class. All day long, Shaka kept sounding reminders, saying stuff like “Coming soon to a line near you…”   and each time, his crowd made scary ‘war sounds’ like “Y-e-a-h!’

In the other corner, I could just feel the fear churning in Sindile’s tummy. All day long, he just sat quietly like a chicken on Christmas eve. Then the bell rang and school was over. Shaka and his crowd were first out the door – there was no escape for Sindile. He took his time putting away his books, then he sighed and stood up.

I followed Sindile. He was after all, my desk mate. Chap was in no hurry to receive his beating. The crowd grew silent as he approached. He stopped before his prancing challenger. The crowd closed in. The line in the dust was drawn.

“Step!” the order came.

Chap just stood there.

“I said step!”

Not a sway from my chap. Then someone pushed him right over the line.

“That doesn’t count!” declared Shaka. Things were getting dicey.

Again, the line was drawn. This time, Sindile stepped on it. He didn’t say a word, but his body language was like “I’m sick of this crap!”

I couldn’t believe what happened next. Shaka’s headdress fell to the floor. His hands hang limp, where his shield should have been. “I forgive you.” He said. But the voice too lacked oomph.

My chap took a few more steps then he walked right past him. Best fight I never saw. We all knew who the winner was. This Dalai Lama thing was really catching on!

Back at home, things played out a little differently in Dad’s courtroom.

“Give me ten reasons why you were rude to Mummy!”

It was always ten reasons. So any screw-ups were followed by hours of speech rehearsal. And when Dad got home, I’d have all of three reasons for my error in judgement. I’d try to stretch the reasons as best I could, but in the end I still got my serving of whacks.

But then I turned eight and Dad said I’d gotten old enough to listen with my ears instead of my behind. He didn’t use those exact words, but that was the bottom line. He he…get it?

Dad would sit me down like a grown up and talk to me. He had this way of reaching deep and pulling all the guilt to the surface. Then the words would haunt me for days.

“If not your mother, who my child? Who?” I really missed the rod unsparing days. But as Dad always said  “Let’s talk and listen. This is how grownups solve their problems.”

Talk and listen, huh? I sure wish grownups did more of this. I sure wish we understood, not feared our differences. I sure wish we hid less behind lines in the dust, and instead blurred the lines of them vs us. I sure wish we reacted less to the rants of so-called opinion leaders, and instead formed unbiased opinions of our own. I sure wish we respected each others stage with the same zeal with which we demand that they respect ours.

I sure wish we fought less.

Past the rebound

I remember my first crush. His name was Fred. We were both nine and, he was really mean to me. Always invading my space and tossing tiny mirrors under my dress. Then he’d snicker when he caught sight of my panty. I hated that boy. He never wasted an opportunity to disrupt my life. At games, we’d sing those songs that made a boy call out a girl, and after a really mortifying dance, the girl would be left inside the circle to call out a boy. Fred always called me out as his girl. Then I’d be forced to call out some other less annoying boy. And we’d dance that mortifying dance, then he too would be left to call out his girl. We all got our 10 seconds of humiliation.  But one thing was for sure, I was Fred’s girl. And somehow it got wired into me that if the boy was mean to me, he must really like me.

Back then, I was a budding poet. I was a star in my category. One afternoon, I was waiting to get up on stage for my performance. My girls were all around me, prepping me for the show. Then this boy just walked up to me and said;

“I hope you win. You are pretty!”

There was a moment of silence and then my girls started giggling. I just burst into tears. How could he say I was pretty? How could he humiliate me like that? Taken aback, the boy apologized;

“I’m sorry. Why are you crying?”

The tears just came faster. Why was he doing this to me? What had I done to deserve this?

But I didn’t have much time to wallow in my misery. My name would soon be called up. I had to compose myself. Fast.

So I went up on stage, red eyed and disoriented. And of course I bungled my performance, jumbled my words and missed my lines. I was a mess. OK, it wasn’t that bad. I only forgot my lines twice, skipped a whole stanza and repeated another stanza twice! The audience was kind; they applauded anyway. My coach didn’t even look at me. I could see the disappointment in the face she wouldn’t even turn my way. I sat on a stone. It was probably my first real taste of loneliness. But then I felt a presence next to me. The reason for my disaster was back for more blood. He was like a little shark!

“I’m really sorry. You are really pretty.”

I said nothing. And we just sat there until it was time to get on the bus for the ride back to school.  I never saw him again. But the girls didn’t let me forget him that easily. They teased me constantly. But in the confines of my school, Fred picked up the meanness where he’d left off the day before. He snatched a piece of my sandwich. And just like that, he restored balance to my world. All was right again with the universe.

I didn’t know it then, but the script had been written. I was drawn almost intrinsically to the brooding, trouble maker types. It didn’t help that I was reading lots of ‘The Hardy Boys’ and Barbara Kimenye’s ‘Moses’ series. Thankfully, my experience was almost entirely restricted to the books I read. After Fred, something traumatic happened that just took my mind off boys. Books became my escape. I filled every waking minute with a Mills & Boon a Sidney Sheldon or a Danielle Steel. I was quite happy to live vicariously through the heroines in the books.

And then I turned sixteen and found myself thrust into a mixed boarding school. I shall never forget, as long as I live, my first lunch in the dining hall. A boy sat opposite me. I was a nervous wreck. The food tasted like sand paper, and I don’t know how I managed to swallow any of it!

Fast forward to three days later, and I had become the mistress of the flirt. And of course I had eyes only for the baddest boys. There was this one boy Jet. Oh my God, he was the center of my world! One time at a school concert, Brandy’s husky voice filled the room. She was asking the million-dollar question “Have you ever loved somebody?”

I watched Jet rise from his seat. I saw him signal in my general direction.  Even though my heart was beating furiously, I had the presence of mind to pretend not to notice. Jet kept signaling until someone finally tapped me. I turned expectantly. For one electric split second, our eyes locked. Then the object of my affection mouthed one word

“Becky.”

Becky was one of my girls. And she was right next to me. I turned and tapped her as my innards turned to stone. I watched Jet mouth one more word

“Dedication.”

And Becky whispered

“Thank you.”

And I just sat there, shell shocked.  That day, the rice and beef in my plate miraculously turned into sandpaper in my mouth. Becky was so excited. And I had to be excited with her. She of course, was oblivious to the pieces of my heart, strewn all over the school. Jet was my first heart breaker.

But I healed. And in record time too! It was barely a week before I got all gooey eyed for a boy called Jonah. What was it with me and the letter J!! Jonah was my first rebound. And boy was he efficient with that task. Two weeks later, I was wondering what the heck I ever saw in Jet! Of course Jonah got forgotten eventually. That was his fate as the rebound guy. But he did great. Just like the many other rebounds between the boyfriends.

And so today, I want to signal until someone taps Jonah. I want to whisper to him, over the heads of many others

“Thank you.”

And I want him to accept this dedication on behalf of all rebounds.

I will nod to him. But I have eyes only for a guy named…. like I’m going to say his name and jinx it! Heck no! I will say this though, he is not a Jonah. He is a lot like that boy who got me all flustered and then sat by me. This time, I didn’t just get his name. I got his number.

The drum rolls sound like they are coming from the general direction of my chest…

 

 

The Lover In You

Call me a sucker for the seasons, but this song just keeps playing in my mind. I can just picture that Babyface guy looking all gorgeous in one of those white outfits that make him look like he just floated off a fluffy white cloud. I can imagine his woman’s knees just turning into butter while he croons in the shower. I mean, what woman’s knees wouldn’t go jelly with the promise of ‘more than any girl can stand’? I’m just picturing it, and I cannot stand it!

I know lots of people who cannot stand it either. Not the song. Not the thought of crooning in the shower. Not even the thought of matching white bathrobes and red hot petals scattered ever so delicately over Egyptian cotton bed sheets. No no no…This is not the kind of stuff that people cannot stand.

Unless of course you are sitting on the bathroom floor all by your lonesome self, reeling from the break up you didn’t see coming. Or the break up you knew was long overdue, but still it hit like a sledge hammer to the thumb. You just sit there, supposedly numb, and yet feeling every prick of what I imagine a botched acupuncture session would feel like. The agony comes in throes and every heart shaped display of cake feels like a landmine in your chest. Of course, everyone else looks happy, rubbing their handholding shenanigans in your face!  You just want to throw something. And right now, that radio with its lovey-dovey crooners is just begging for a one way ticket through the window!

Breathe darling. At least no one expects you to make any grand gestures. Spare a thought for that harassed fellow who has to choose between replacing his worn out  tyres and sleeping on Egyptian beddings that will still be hotel property on the fifteenth of February. That poor fellow cannot even feign amnesia because the hints have long lost their subtlety. He knows exactly how many ocean view rooms they have ‘missed’ because he’s been ‘too slow’ with his decisions. He blames his work boss for being too slow with that decision to send him to Turkana. It would have been so easy to say to his home boss “Honey, that heartless boss of mine is sending me to Turkana! She says I’ll have to do lots of travel between now and May.” Translation, don’t even think about Easter, my darling.

In truth, the conversation went something like this “Boss, have you made a decision on my trip to Turkana?”

“What trip?”

“Ummm, we talked about it in January. I wanted to visit the field office for support supervision.”

“Oh yeah. No, I think it’s more crucial that you remain in Nairobi. No travel between now and May.”

Translation, shit!

So now, that poor chap has to put together the getaway he should have put together weeks ago. He doesn’t have to do it though. He just has to put a price tag on peace of mind and realize that there really is no decision to be made!

Call me a dander head, but if these grand gestures are tied only to the consequences of not making them, is it still a Romantic getaway or is it merely a gateway to peace?

Are you still crying on your bathroom floor? Sweetie, please think about that woman whose hopes of happiness just fade every day. Her expectations went sky high when for their third date; he flew her to Malindi for the weekend. Walking barefoot on that beach, she knew the ocean with all its water, had nothing on how happy she felt. In his starry eyes, she’d seen many more beaches. Many more early morning walks. But now her mornings are filled with sulking children and missed school vans. She is bored out of her mind and the love of her life seems to be drifting away on some unknown tectonic plate. And he’s taking with him, the island of Zanzibar and the chance of rekindling.  He used to sing to her; in fact, it is why she fell in love with him. Now he just talks in monotone or keeps radio silent. When they do go to any beach, he acts as if his teeth are being pulled out. He might as well put on a t-shirt with the words “I’d rather not be here!” But she’ll pretend not to notice. She’ll take some selfies and post them on Facebook. Far be it for her to let it slide that she is anything but happy. She’s been told many times that happiness is not an event.

And so she dresses in all white and pours a glass of wine. She cooks his favorite dish and hugs him a little tighter. At least he brought her flowers.

As for you, sitting on your bathroom floor, enough of that tissue mountain you’ve got going! Love you just a little more generously, and you’ll find that the lover in you sings pretty well in the shower!

For Starters…

Coffee tables are little pieces of hell. I mean, they class up a room and everything. They make lazy Sundays a lot easier. You just stretch your hand and scoop some popcorn. Then you stretch it and find that ice cold glass of something. Then you stretch it and find the remote. So much stretching… I don’t really know why anyone would call you a couch potato!

The commercial comes on, and you figure it’s time for a quick bathroom break. You get up, and then wham! Damn table catches your little toe! It hits like an imploding laser beam. Time stops. Sirens blare. You want to scream, but the pain keeps your lips frozen in place. You grip your wounded foot. You whimper. You hum a little song. You whistle a tune. You dance a jig. You are an artist and the universe pays you homage.

If you were lucky, you would have no audience. Pain this raw, should be endured far away from those irritating words of sympathy. But you’ve already established your lack of luck. Damn table just keeps getting in the way, And your poor toe takes all the heat.

“Again!”  A voice chides.

Like you need a reminder that the same toe suffered the same fate a few short hours ago! Third time today, but who the hell is counting! You can hear the mirth in their voices, and you grit your teeth. You know it’s kind of funny. But right now, you need to be mad at someone else. You are grateful, when an ice cube touches your skin.

You settle back into your recliner – the bathroom break will have to wait. You should probably push the table away. But the tiny samosas have just arrived. You reach out and pick one. You sink your teeth into it and a different sensation takes over. Your mind explodes from the sheer play of that samosa on your taste buds. The pain is soon forgotten. You need ten more of these little treats. But you get only two. Your tummy is revving to go.

Meanwhile, you are recovered enough to talk about your toe incidents. “It’s always the same toe!” You laugh. The others laugh too. No one states the obvious – the table is too close. They are too busy munching samosas.

You’re soon reminded of your overdue bathroom visit. You swing your legs off the sofa and…yap! Lightning really does strike repeatedly. Same toe, same coffee table. Like seriously? What does this damn table have against you? You perform your routine backwards – you’re practically a pro now. You don’t even care about your audience, the toe feels fractured.

You’ve finally had enough. “We have to move the table a bit.” You say. And just like that, the table is moved. It took you long enough to make that game changing move. The food arrives. Bowls and bowls of the really good stuff. Golden brown crusts and tender soft meats.  My, oh my…

You swing your legs every which way. You delve into dish after dish. The tastes are phenomenal; the hunger pangs are soon subdued. The little samosas couldn’t possibly have done what the layered chapattis have done.

You now know, what the early bird has always known – The worm is merely a tasty starter. Enjoy it, but don’t get too comfortable. There’s bigger prey to catch.

And the pain? Well, that too can be a starter – a tiny nugget of suffering that wets your appetite for better; or a seven course pity party…your menu!

 

 

Scooch!

 

There’s always reason to yearn for the end of a matatu ride. If it isn’t squeaky windows that won’t open, it’s paranoid passengers that almost want to nail them shut. Like seriously, let’s all recycle each other’s air until someone passes out or catches Tuberculosis!

You can plead all you want, but those windows are staying shut. Believe me, I’ve tried it. And it’s no better when you keep your window open – the persistent taps on your shoulder will wear you out “Funga dirisha.” It’s only a little wind, for Heaven’s sake!

One wonders why we can’t channel some of that window closing resolution towards the conductors. I have seen people fold to their will like pieces of paper.  “Fare ni 40!” We just pay up. Never mind the fact that before we boarded, fare was 20!

And why ‘sit’ in those invisible aisle seats? Your butt will be suspended in thin air, and your legs will cramp before the ignition even starts! There will be lots of traffic to make the journey even longer and the driver will weave in and out of lanes like a bee through the flowers. Your eyes well up from the sheer effort of holding on. And just when you’ve gotten the hang of that half squat, half bend position, you come face to face with the conductor’s open palm.

You make eye contact, and hope he empathizes with the impossibility of your position. But nay! The palm remains open. So you pry one of your hands from the metal you’ve been clinging to for dear life. For your sake, I pray the money is in your front pocket. Because the torture of retrieving your wallet from your back pocket or your purse – oh my goodness! You make painful movements, until you find the money. Then you pay the fare in full!  And then he asks you, no, orders you to pass him the money from the unfortunate fellow squatting behind you. And you oblige, meekly.   What magic this lot of people must possess!

Woe unto you if you get the front row seat to the conductor’s armpit. Whatever your reason, you believe that you have no choice. So when this matatu stops and you notice that even the invisible seats are taken, you jump in and gratefully share his seat. You sit there like the brave Kenyan you are, and count the seconds till you get off.  He raises his arms many many times, to give and receive money.You hold your breath many many times too. You could totally win a breath-holding tournament!  And yes, you pay the fare in full!

Sometimes the conductor is in a foul mood. He spews unprintable insults, and yes, you sit there in silence because you are never going to win a foul mouthed match against any of those guys. Fine. Sometimes it’s just easier to ignore the garbage.

What I don’t get is the radio silence when our lives are at risk. Try to speak up because the vehicle is going too fast? My friend. Chances are, you will be on your own. The rest of us will stare meekly at our phones, pretending not to notice.

You’ll only know that they noticed when they give accounts of the accident to the reporters. “He was driving dangerously…I even told my neighbor, this vehicle will roll.” Not to make you feel bad because you’ve just been through a really bad experience, but why not speak up sooner?

I know. These guys have a way of putting you in your place. One dose of “Buy your own car.” Could very well bruise your hustling soul. But words never broke any bones.

When the matatu stops and the ground meets your feet, you will be relieved or furious or simply too hard pressed for time to dwell on the ride that was. But, there is something, I dare say, to be learned from the matatu experience.

Like the conductor, be bold and unapologetic – the universe has a way of caving in, even to the demands that seem totally ridiculous. Pick your fights – some insults are not worth anything; but some could make all the difference. Put your foot down – I never saw anyone get forced into those invisible seats. Squat if you must. But don’t let anyone keep you in that position. Squeeze through that restricted, in-existent space and emerge better on the other side.

In a word – Scooch!

Take a closer look

 

Picture this. A totally mundane day – ok, beautiful day filled with totally mundane activity; nothing to write home about. Sigh.

I wish something remotely interesting could happen right now. How about a scandal? Yeah…that would really jazz things up. Besides, a little scandal never hurt anyone, right?

Sadly, I see no scandal in my day’s agenda. My task is simple; swing by Sarit Center, buy a fridge guard. With all these KPLC power games, it’s only a matter of time before my precious gadgets get fried. Ok, maybe not precious, but certainly indispensable. Especially the fridge! I mean, you can only get away with boiling the thawed beef, but what about the sausages? Seriously, boiling sausages is where I draw the line!

Anyway, I get to Sarit, and in a few short minutes, I ‘m holding my brand new fridge guard. Cost me a tidy sum…last of the buffer between me and poverty. I peek inside my wallet and find only receipts and a fifty dollar bill. Now, this Benjamin has been burning a hole in my wallet for a while. How it came to be in my wallet? Long story. Not that long actually, I just don’t want to tell it.

Let’s just say I got it months ago, from a guy I had a blip of a relationship with. The money was supposed to pay for my taxi back home. I don’t know why, but that gesture really ticked me off.  I mean, who gives a woman money after a date? If ever there was a definition of unromantic, I’d say this was it! Needless to say, it was downhill from that point.

So here I am in scarce January, carrying this fifty dollar bill in my wallet to…I don’t know, prove a point. I look back at all the receipts, sitting arrogantly where money should be. And just like that, my mind is made up. My point proving days are over; time to ditch this souvenir. Swap it and spend it already. Easy peasy.

I figure I’ll just pop in and out of KCB. I walk into the banking hall, and my spirits plummet. The bank is teeming as usual. I pick a ticket and tap my feet impatiently. “Ticket number 8004; please proceed to counter number 2.” I rise and walk, like I just got called up for the Nobel Prize.

“Can I do a forex?” I ask. “Sure.” He says.

So I take out the bill and slide it under the bullet proof glass. He picks it up and casually looks at it. “You’ll get KSHS 5,077.” He says.

“Ok.” I  just want to be rid of it. I think to myself.

He looks at it again. Then he folds it and puts it back down. Ok, I’m officially nervous. I didn’t even look at that bill. Suddenly, I remember an irrelevant fact. Evan (Let’s call him Evan) is from somewhere in the West of Africa!

“Excuse me” He says, and walks away with the note in his hand.

Holy shit, I am screwed!

I pick up my phone. I’m shaking so hard, I can barely get the pattern right. My life flashes before my eyes. From tax payer to criminal, just like that! The seconds tick and the teller is nowhere to be seen. I start to wonder if I can make a run for the exit. I glance over my shoulder and see the chasm that stands between me and Liberty. It might as well be The Rift Valley.

So, I stand there waiting for two burly cops to show up and cuff me. There is a first time for everything, but damn it, does the first time I date a West African be the first time I have to contemplate running from the police? I’m not one to stereotype, I mean, I dated the guy, didn’t I? But the legend of the West, precedes the people of that colorful region.

I swear Evan,  if you gave me counterfeit, I will make it my life’s mission to hunt you down! But before I hunt anyone down, I‘ll need my freedom…who knows how long I’ll be behind bars for this one?

Any minute now, the coppers will show up and I will suffer a dose of humiliation so grave, I’ll never be able to walk in the light again. I think about those matatu touts, being marched away in handcuffs in full glare of morning traffic. But they are touts; they are bound to get arrested for something – least of all that noise pollution they try to pass off as marketing! Besides, I’m certain I wouldn’t remember the face of a tout I saw getting arrested just yesterday. Lucky anonymous tout! But getting arrested in this banking hall will certainly get me on the evening news. Not exactly the way I planned to make my television debut!

So while I wait for my inevitable arrest, I start thinking about my defense.

I swear I didn’t know it was counterfeit!” Really?

“I have a paying job!” That never stopped anyone dealing in counterfeit.

“Ok, I need a lawyer.” Oh dear God.

After what feels like eternity, he returns with my future in his hands. “I needed to run it through the machine.” He says, handing over my Kenyattas.

“I was really starting to panic.” I confess with a nervous laugh. “No need to panic.” He says with a knowing look.

I wonder if they were all watching me squirm.

Anyway, I walk out of the bank, hands swinging beautifully in the air. Freedom never felt so free! I will never ever wish for a scandal again. Ok, let’s not be rush with harsh words like never. Let’s just say, I’ll be very specific, the next time I wish for scandal because getting frisky with a Prison Warder is not what I have in mind…

I sold currency and got more than currency in return;

Counterfeits may come in bills. But they also come in suits and dresses. Take a closer look.